The Downside of Being Helpful
The most natural thing in the world is to want to help, to fix things. There is a desire to return things to comfort and smooth sailing. All this is right and noble. It also gets amplified to a much greater degree when the situation involves our partner. It has been suggested that being in a committed relationship provides the ideal setting for healing and growth.
The problem that arises is when we focus on the other person – our partner – as the one that needs the growth, rather that direct our energies into how we ourselves can heal and resolve sabotaging beliefs that continue to damage our relationships today.
For some reason, it seems infinitely easier to spot our partner’s “flaws” in need of fixing than it is to see our own. And once we see them, relationships can devolve into a competition to see who can correct, adjust, improve and refine the other more in line with how we think things should be. Sometimes, it is just one partner that engages in that goal, and the other is just left either defending or withdrawing (the fight or flight responses in full display).
Dr. Lori Gordon, the creator of the PAIRS program, wrote a wonderful book named “Love Knots” in which she presented a collection of ways we unconsciously recreate beliefs from our childhood lifescripts in ways that can totally destroy connection and love between a couple.
One of these Love Knots describes an aspect of this attempt to help that goes awry. It says “If you are in pain, I should be able to fix it. I don’t know how to fix it, so I feel inadequate. I am angry at you for making me feel inadequate. I withdraw from you, blame you, when you are in pain.”
In hearing about some problem that our partners have, we want to fix it. We offer helpful suggestions, or sometimes critical or sarcastic expressions of how they could handle things differently. While sincerely wanting to help our partner is loving and reasonable, often that help is not offered, but instead presented as “the right way” to handle it. Rather than asking if they would like some suggestions or our ideas (and respecting the “no” if given), we dive right in to give our advice to fix things.
One of the key problems that arises out of that, is the recipient usually hears it as a statement that is subtly saying “I have the answer and you don’t. I’m smarter than you are, and you are less than me.” It leads to a one up - one down feeling, that is the very opposite of the peer relationship that a thriving, happy couple usually wants. And, the result from the attempt to fix, to help, to correct – is distancing, anger, fighting, withdrawal, distrust. Certainly, just about the last thing most helpful fixers are thinking when they offer their suggestions.
So, there are two main ways to take a different path. One is to put much more energy and focus into areas in your life where you recognize you need to grow, heal and do better – and perhaps tell yourself once that is all done, then you will think about making suggestions for your partner’s growth.
Another approach might feel necessary for a problem at hand that just won’t wait that long. Find a quiet time when things are good between the two of you, and ask your partner their thoughts on whatever the problem is that needs fixing. Let them be fully heard before you ask if they would be open to hearing some thoughts you have on the subject. If yes, present it as a suggestion or thought to consider. Not the “here’s how you should handle that” style. As a positive suggestion, they may not agree, but hopefully at least it will open them up to another consideration to think about alternate solutions.
Respect for different ways of doing things, and thinking, is vital to keep your relationship happy and thriving. Fixing a car is one thing, but thinking we have to fix our partners will not bring us the peace, connection and love we want.